Sorry, just had to get that out of the way; Bruce Springsteen is on The Daily Show and I’m from New Jersey so I’m legally obligated to do that whenever I see him. Although I gotta ask, my love of the Springsteen aside, what the hell is that accent? Because as far as I know he’s from Freehold, which is located in neither Southwestern Pennsylvania nor the Chesapeake Bay region.
I grew up a few miles down the road from Freehold and spent many a teenage weekend at the Freehold Raceway Mall. I still sometimes find myself in Freehold. And that? Is not how people from central Jersey sound. We drop our “T”s and add unnecessary “W”s to the ends of our vowels and use “shit” as a synonym for “thing.” I’m just saying, something’s a little fishy.
(Still, that doesn’t change the fact that Workin’ on the Highway is one of the best songs ever, especially while watching Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band perform it live as a JUG BAND from the 20 yardline on the field at Giants Stadium. I can die now. Fucking A.*)
Also fishy: tonight’s dinner.** After an intensive Smackdown week, I am sometimes fucking tired I sometimes like to dial things down a little. So tonight, we went with shrimp sandwiches with garlic mayo on crackling cornbread, with a side of creamy cabbage and cilantro slaw from The Improvisational Cook. I gotta tell you, between all that raw cabbage and the beer I had with dinner, it’s like I’m in the fucking Willy Wonka Factory Fizzing Lifting Drink Room. Thank god we have no ceiling fans.
I always chuckle a little when I pick up The Improvisational Cook. I think it’s a great book; aside from solid recipes, it’s a nice starting point for people who are unsure about creating original recipes and flavor profiles and want a little hand-holding to see how different ingredients and flavors can morph as they’re paired differently. Still, the point of the book is to get you away from using books, so I always feel like it cancels itself out and should disappear into a puff of metaphysics, a tragic victim of its own Modus Ponens. The book that cannot logically exist.***
Was that too subtle for your mind? Yes, I am that fucking deep.
**Best segue ever, or THE BEST segue ever?
***For those who do like playing with flavor combinations but want to go a little more free-form, I highly recommend The Flavor Bible.
I started off with the cornbread, figuring that everything else could be done while it baked and cooled so dinner could be over in under an hour and I could have some quiet time with ER. Yes, I know that many people think ER has lept back and forth over the shark more times than Shamu during an afternoon’s performance, but it’s the last three episodes of the whole series and I want Neela to get back together with Ray and I am so hormonal right now that women spontaneously begin menstruating as they sit next to me on the subway, so you’re not taking away My Stories.
The cornbread was a classic recipe: that is, no sugar. Personally, I like sweeter, moister cornbread, being a stupid Yankee asshole who doesn’t appreciate the merits of dry, crumbly, plain cornbread, not that I am judging. We all have our tastes. I know this is A THING with the sugar v. no sugar, so I’ll drop it.
It was a simple affair: cornmeal and a bit of flour, baking soda and powder, a solitary egg, a little salt and some buttermilk just mixed to produce a barely-pourable batter.. I let a cast-iron skillet heat up in the oven before adding FOUR TABLESPOONS of bacon fat, scooping in the batter and returning the pan to the oven. That business with the four tablespoons was not me, it was the book, because even I was like “whoa, that’s a lot of fucking bacon fat” when I saw it and you know that’s saying something.
The batter began sizzling as soon as it hit the hot fat, and we turned to the rest of the fixins’ while bacon-scented steam billowed from the oven vents. If only there were somehow a way to trap that, or recreate it on a smaller scale…like a bacon bong! Someone get to work on that. We’ll split the profits 60/40 (it’s hard work coming up with all these ideas, so it’s only fair).
The slaw was remarkably easy for something that tasted so good, and that’s saying a LOT because I generally loathe coleslaw. I think it has something to do with growing up in New Jersey, where every time you went to the diner and got a burger it would come with the sad little plastic cup of cole slaw with a pickle spear* on top. Very few people eat that coleslaw and I was firmly convinced that the diner only had 10 or 15 of the little cups that were in rotation among the diners, so what I was really getting was the reject slaw of hundreds of other people who just wanted a grilled cheese sandwich. That, and I’ve never understood wanting to cover vegetables with mayonnaise (most salad dressing also confounds me).
This slaw was pleasantly non-mayonnaise-y and fresh tasting: just some red cabbage, chives and cilantro with a quick dressing of buttermilk and sour cream dressed up with some Worcestershire, hot sauce and sugar. The slaw didn’t sit around long enough for the cabbage to turn mushy, and the dressing wasn’t so gloppy that it masked the fresh veggie flavors.
I’m not saying I’m changing my tune about coleslaw, and I will never, ever in my life eat the plastic diner cup. I’m just saying I can get behind this particular slaw. In fact, let’s re-name it and call it a salad so I don’t have to create a complicated taxonomy of slaws I do (this slaw, carrot and ginger slaw) and do not like (classic cole slaw, the highly questionable “health slaw” sold at area PathMarks).
*I also hate pickles, which I have always said are good cucumbers ruined, so that probably didn’t help.
I also needed to make some garlic mayo for the sandwiches. Since I’m not all fancy-pants with the lightbox and the DSLR camera, there’s really no way for me to take a picture of mayo that looks appetizing in any way. I would apologize, but it’s not like I could have done anything differently.
This is the book’s cheater mayo, kinda like the way the public radio ladies help you boost boxed chicken stock: you take store-bought mayo, whisk in some good olive oil, lemon juice and white pepper, and voila, you have the Sandra Lee of mayos (although this mayo is not a drunk). For the garlic version, you also whisk in some garlic that you’ve minced and then repeatedly crushed with the non-blade edge of your knife until it turns into paste. I guess you could just push it through a garlic press, but then you wouldn’t get that forearm burn that tells you you’re getting a good workout.
Brian handled the shrimp while I reconstituted the mayo. This particular sandwich isn’t one of the book’s main recipes; it’s a spin-off* of the cornbread recipe. The sandwich instructions said we could use lobster, crab or shrimp. Since you never know if you’re going to find fresh lump crab and Brian freakishly doesn’t like lobster (and I didn’t want a $40 sandwich), we went with the shrimp. And since the book gave no guidance on what to do with the shrimp other than indicating that they should, in fact, be cooked, Brian gave them a little hit of smoked paprika and cayenne before their quick sojourn from raw to delicious.
*Wordpress would like this to be “Spinoza.” We’ll never know whether it really thinks that is the correct substitution, or if it’s using the existentialism of this book (as explained above) as a chance to show off its philosophical chops.
Assembly time. The book told me I could slice the cornbread in half lengthwise and use it to make an actual sandwich. Normally, I trust a cookbook until it has given me a good reason not to, but I admit this gave me pause. Even in the best of times, I don’t think I could make a sandwich out of straight-up cornbread, especially just-out-of-the-oven cornbread. I was able to kinda maybe sort of cut it, but there was no way to maintain the structural integrity of a traditional sandwich, so I went with an open-face version. If there’s one thing to which I’m deeply committed, it’s the structural integrity of my sandwiches. We take sandwiches very seriously here.
This was a really good dinner. Definitely one of those whole is better than the sum of its parts things, because I was a little unsure about the whole slaw/garlicky mayo/cornbread combo, but when you got a little of everything on your fork all the flavors played nicely and shared their blocks while also remaining distinct enough to be interesting. The slaw did a good job balancing the sting of the garlic and heat of the shrimp. I’m still not sure I’ve come around to the no-sugar cornbread (bacony bottom and edges aside); although it was good on the sandwich, I’m not a big fan of it plain without copious amounts of butter and honey. And then I got to go downstairs and watch ER without a computer on my lap, so all in all I’d have to call this a victory.
Final Score: Us, 1; Food, 0
ONE YEAR AGO: Tacogate ’08: The Final Chapter
I can’t see how cornbread can support a sandwich. Without the elastic structure from gluten development, even wheat-flour quickbreads are too crumbly. (Damn, I think I just channeled Harold McGee there.) Polenta, though, might be stiff enough to handle the job.
Sometimes, spell check offers us unexpected wisdom. Back in the day, I was writing something about AOL, and the spell checker suggested that I change it to “oaf” instead. I think that fits.
I completely agree with you about pickles. They are the devil’s vegetable. I come from a Polish family where they were the only veg in the house, a true nightmare.
First: You should ALWAYS start with cornbread. Especially cornbread with four tablespoons of bacon fat. YUM.
Second: Do you know how rare it is to find a recipe for coleslaw that only uses red cabbage? Very rare. And I know because I had a lot of fucking red cabbage from our garden this year that I was trying to use in ways that did not always involve cider vinegar (German-style, that is). Incidentally, I harvested those cabbages in October and ate the last one in FEBRUARY. Freakish.
Third and Last: Sandra Lee is a drunk? That explains so much.
Seeing any traditional (yikes the flour) cornbread recipe in print makes me miss my Mississippi Delta mama in Memorial Gardens in Clarksdale (buried just to the right of the plaster image of our lord and savior Jesus Christ Amen) so bad I need to go eat raw bacon out of the refrigerator but it’s a good kind of missing so thank you dear for that.
Not to ignore the rest of the delicious-looking meal, but that coleslaw sounds great. I want that right now.
I want the shrimp. I’m liking the paprika and cayenne thing.
If you want to make the cornbread a little more structurally sound, add another egg, thin the batter down a little, and fry patties in the bacon fat. That would be hoecakes, in the West Tennessee vernacular. The crust helps hold it together. I’d probably still eat it open-faced, though.
My favorite cornbread recipe comes from the perennial Moosewood cookbook of all places…ALWAYS works. and contains a bit of honey, just enough.
when i do the cracklin bread, i use the method my country friend’s grandma (affectionately referred to as Gummy) told me once. chop up the bacon, toss it into the skillet and stick it into the cold oven. turn on the oven, and as it pre- heats to your desired temp, mix up your batter. it’ll be smoky and hot as all get-out. just pour in the batter and let the bacony bit find their way into the batter, because that’s what your really want, the bits. its fucking AMAZING.
for a little bacon overload, i’ve had mad success tossing the shrimp with the smoky paprika and cayenne a bit of olive oil, letting them sit for a bit, and then wrapping in bacon. YES. toothpicks or skewers–broil or grill *dies*
NJ footnote: One of my first tapes, back in 1987 or so (geez did i actually not get a tape till i was 12?) was Slippery When Wet, which I won on a Boardwalk in Jersey (Seaside Heights, to be precise) one of those quintissential moments…lol
bowl, i knew from the get-go that an actual cornbread sandwich was never going to happen. i was kinda surprised the cook even suggested trying to make a regular sandwich with it.
vicki, from now on, that is how i will refer to pickles.
kristin, i did not know the rarity. i also didn’t know that there were still people who didn’t know sandra lee is a drunk. do you see those heinous cocktails she makes and slugs down every episode. she is three sheets, my friend.
trishy, aw shucks, and you’re welcome, and the flour wasn’t my idea, and please don’t eat the raw bacon. your mama would want you to cook it.
lisa, it was really good. i think it will become our go-to bbq slaw b/c it’s so quick and easy and fresh tasting.
kay, i’ve always wanted to eat a hoecake. i thought that more than one egg would be helpful, but it was a thursday so i had to follow directions.
vera, that was also one of my first tapes. i was 10 i played it until it literally fell apart. bon jovi were from sayreville, NJ, the town right next to mine, and my mom was an electrologist and used to remove chin hair from richie sambora’s mom so i felt like i had a special connection. to this very day, “wanted dead or alive” remains one of my all time favorite songs, and i can rock the HELL out of it on rock band.
also, i’m totally making cornbread like that next time.
I have such a strong hatred for Sandra Lee… it knows no bounds. I just want to smack her blonde bobble-head off her stick insect body. ANYONE can buy ready-made things from the store, add fresh lemon juice and parsley, and call it “semi-homemade” and they gave her a whole SHOW!!!! GAHHHH!!!!
And what’s with the separate elaborate table settings for every freaking meal? Who has a second house in which to store all of these absurd props and assorted colored glasses and chandeliers for every little event you throw because you have nothing to do with your life because you’re married to a Cuomo and all you ever have to do is look blonde and vapid?
Sorry. Just… really… feel strongly. I have a cold right now and feel like crud, so if some magic bacon-cornbread were to appear in my kitchen I’d be oh-so pleased.
And as I am a Jersey Girl as well, I also cried out BRUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCE! last night. It really does become part of your DNA. There’s no fighting it.
oh yeah…and apart from my slutty cousin swearing up and down that she did all of Bon Jovie when she was 16, my grandmother sat with Tico Torres’ Grandmother 3 times a week, just for company, till the day she died. Tico would give her a ride back home once a week. LOL
Over at the Cook’s Illustrated message board, they call Sandra Lee’s show Semi Ho-Made. Before Cuomo, Lee was married to Bruce Karatz, who was just indicted for stock options fraud. So Sandra, and another Bruce. This completes the circle. Or something. Yeah, I can be deep, too.
I would LOVE to see live-blogging of Semi Ho-made, which is how I refer to the show, too, if only it were possible. I’m sure we’re all at work when the new eps air, though. I never miss “the crazy drunk lady” (how my husband refers to her) on Sunday mornings. She is an inspiration… for how NOT to be. Her show is a train wreck and I just can’t look away.
put me in the “no sugar tonight (in my cornbread)” camp…as well as in the “gee, showing our age with a ‘guess who’ reference, are we?” camp. with bacon fat, who needs sugar? and your sandwich looks great–actually, it’s just a variation of your shrimp & grits.
Y’all are forcing me to plug my blog. The bacon thang. Linguine with Squash, Bacon and Goat Cheese
• 6 slices bacon
• 1 2- to 2 ½-pound butternut squash—peeled, seeded, and diced (4 to 5 cups)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
• 1 teaspoon kosher salt
• 4 ounces soft goat cheese, crumbled
• 1 1-pound package linguine, cooked
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
Cook the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 5 minutes. Drain on a paper towel, then crumble or break into pieces; set aside. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat from the skillet. Add the squash and garlic to the skillet and sauté over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and salt. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the squash is cooked through and softened, 20 to 25 minutes. Add half the goat cheese and stir well to combine. Place the cooked linguine in a large bowl. Stir the sauce into the linguine and toss well to coat. Drizzle with the olive oil and add the reserved bacon, the remaining goat cheese, and the pepper. Serve immediately.
Do it. You won’t be sorry.
chessa, there’s just so much ranch dressing powder in everything she makes. and since ranch dressing powder shouldn’t exist in the first place, it’s even more distressing.
vera, okay, you just spelled bon jovi with an “e” on the end, which is totally throwing your credibility in doubt.
bowl, she should be indicted for “person who knows how to cook fraud.” i do draw the line at calling her a ho, however. there are enough other ways to make fun of her.
emily, i really don’t think i could do it. plus, it’s not polite to mock the developmentally disabled.
burkie, not really – no sausage, no roux, no sauce. most importantly, no sausage.
kay, i will do it. and i will NOT be sorry.
holy shit. that was my english nerd gagging my NYNJ dork, and putting her in the corner!
I’ve done my share of cooking lots of bacon in my cast-iron pan to leave the fat for making cornbread (shhh…don’t tell my supposedly-allergic-to-pork husband). It is the bomb – even if you don’t have sugar in it.
I confess to actually eating and liking those little cups of cole slaw and the pickles in the diner. I’m a pickle nut. Please dont hold it against me too much.
I am convinced 98% of the people who watch Sandra Lee’s show watch it to make fun of it and snark about it on the internet. There is a great Sandra Lee drinking game out there on the web somewhere (drink when she says, “Fanstic, beautiful, “I want you to”, “grrrreeeat”, “literally”, “Whooooo”). There is also a wonderful snark community out there called Semihorrible.
Semi-Ho, Scamdra, so many possibilities for making fun of htat name.
The only thing I love more than a delicious sandwich is The Boss.
I’m sure you’ve already seen this, but when I came across it I couldn’t help but think of you.